When military action against Daesh is brought up, the reminders of Iraq are almost inevitable. The many mistakes and the arguably illegal steps leading to the disastrous decade-long war have led to innumerable doubts in the minds of voters and of MPs as to whether to be in favour of, or against action in Syria. Ultimately, no one is rightly keen for history to repeat itself.
Iraq was a very different situation, albeit. A whipped vote in favour of war in Iraq meant that despite the largest backbench rebellion in modern British politics, the outcome was exactly what the government wanted, and led us on a warpath that many MPs and vast swathes of the British public strongly opposed. It was an example of the whip system undermining the wishes of the people for the sake of a government's agenda. Now the situation is a Labour leader, labelled a pacifist, questioning whether to whip his party's MPs into voting against military action against Daesh. Corbyn has his reasons for his beliefs, and amongst grassroots Labour membership, opposition to military action is strong, but this vote is more than a Party Conference motion, this does not just affect Labour membership, it is a national issue and Corbyn must respect this.
A YouGov survey yesterday revealed that 59% of the British public are in favour of RAF airstrikes against Daesh and 41% are in favour of the UK and US sending ground troops to Syria to also fight Daesh. This is an issue of national concern, and the national opinion seems not to reflect that of Labour membership. This is where Corbyn's test arises from. Does he choose to represent membership and call a whipped vote of opposition, or does he represent the British public and allow a free vote on the issue?
Corbyn should call a free vote. War is a matter of conscience. A political party should not have the ability to force MPs into blindly backing or opposing military action. War is political, but lives of innocent civilians caught up in the effects of this vote are not. Strong action is required against Daesh, and we have a duty to defend our allies, such as France, in solidarity and fraternity, but it should be the decision of our individual MPs with their individual thoughts, beliefs and morals whether we do so or not. We must not allow these individual beliefs to be silenced or restricted. Nor should we allow the opinions of the public to be undermined. The beliefs of the constituents of each MP should be allowed to influence their vote. As I have already written, this is an issue of national significance and interest, so the British public must have their influence on the decision at hand. As with Iraq, a whipped vote does not allow this. MPs feel bound by the chains of party politics, rather than bound by humanity and conscience. In essence, the one simple way to express this point is my belief in the importance of one concept - vox populi - that is, the voice of the people. This vote is about representation; something our MPs are elected to do, but ought to be able to embrace further.
War is possibly the most significant issue parliament can vote on, and this is undoubtedly the most important vote of this parliament so far. It is no place for political point scoring, for stamping authority, for enforcing discipline or for party rivalry. It is a time for deep and thoughtful considerations of human impact, security, stability, international relations, how to mitigate civilian deaths and ultimately of how we should confront the rising threat of terrorism as a result of this decision. Corbyn may have his mandate to represent the views of Labour membership, but he now has the responsibility of representing the British public, and on something as crucial as this decision, he must prove his leadership by allowing MPs to vote according to their conscience and according to the British people. It is not portraying Labour as the split and confused party the media may want you to see, it would instead be a leader showing they are democratically minded, and truly committed to not just their party, but their people. For the sake of representation, honesty, transparency and democracy; Jeremy Corbyn must allow a free vote on Syrian airstrikes this week.